As job roles become increasingly global and Generation Y progressively enters the workforce, Dell’s aim in introducing its ‘Connected Workplace’ initiative was to continue being able to attract and retain staff.
The initiative, which was initially piloted in the UK from November 2009 into early 2010, was rolled out across Europe, the Middle East and Africa over the last 12 months. Although born out of a business requirement, it was the brainchild of the high tech firm’s UK HR director, Dan Grant.
“The biggest thing is that it’s not just giving people the opportunity to work from home. It’s not just about where they work, but also about how they work. Staff have the autonomy to start work and end it whenever suits. It’s not about visibility – it’s about outputs,” he says.
But changing managers’ attitude and ensuring that they were comfortable with the new approach “wasn’t easy and it’s taken time”, Grant acknowledges. Taking a blended approach to “visibility” helped, however, he says.
For example, it is standard practice for managers to have regular one-to-one meetings with staff in person, but also to communicate with them on a daily basis using social media tools such as Salesforce.com’s Chatter.
Of Dell’s 2,200 UK employees that work across four sites in Bracknell, London, Nottingham and Glasgow, the scheme has so far been taken up by about 60% in some form or another.
The three key categories of worker, each of which have their own requirements, are those that are fully remote and work 100% of the time from home or customer sites; people who may work in a range of Dell’s offices some of the time but work remotely the rest of the time as well as staff for whom remote working is more ad hoc in nature.
An advantage in having implemented a formal flexible working initiative, meanwhile, is that the firm has taken the time to devise a series of consistent policies, together with a repeatable technology framework, to enable workers to request the right to work remotely and provide them with suitable support in doing so should approval be given.
Productivity and performance
Such support includes a remote working allowance to pay for equipping a home office and contribute towards the cost of broadband and utilities bills. It also covers the provision of a variety of Q&A-based risk assessment forms, which are reviewed by a health and safety team once they have been completed.
Grant acknowledges that practices such as home-working are not for everyone, however. Therefore, in order to ensure that personnel think through the implications, they are given a checklist before embarking on change.
This checklist includes questions such as ‘do I mind spending time on my own?’ and ‘am I comfortable using Office Communicator?’ Policies have also been devised to cover “reverse migration” so that workers can come back on site if required.
In general terms, however, Grant believes that the initiative has led to overall productivity increases and a rise in employee satisfaction levels, not least among the Generation Y chunk of the firm’s workforce, which currently comprises about 20%.
“All of the research dictates and shows that Generation Y needs flexibility and working 9-to-5 in a rigid role doesn’t suit them. So apart from the benefits to the existing staff population, having the Connected Workplace is key to attract and be able to retain them,” he explains.
But the scheme has also been appealing to the increasingly high numbers of existing employees who undertake global or regional roles and so need to work across time zones in order to support customers and colleagues in Europe, the Middle East and Africa as well as the US.
As for lessons learned, Grant advises: “It’s always harder than you think it’s going to be, but just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. It takes time and resourcing and you have to get leaders on board as early as possible, ideally from the outset.”
Ultimately, however, the aim of such initiatives is to ensure that the workforce is motivated. “It’s about ensuring that staff are happy because ensuring that they are happy and engaged improves productivity and performance,” Grant concludes.